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NORTH BAY -- For reasons that are the subject of frequent debate, the daily S&P 500 has oscillated more in the past decade — commonly 3 to 4 percent — than in the prior 40 years, according to a recent New York Times analysis. And 2011 has been no exception, with markets riding a political and economic turmoil that many say is of historic significance.

It’s a roller coaster ride that has rattled the nerves of many investors, some of them fleeing equity markets for lower-volatility investments such as bonds, or even pulling out of investing entirely.

Yet as the North Bay Area’s wealth advisers hear from some nervous clients, many are offering this reassurance: despite the emotional effect of witnessing stocks fluttering dramatically before closing, recent market swings stand to have little effect on long-term portfolios and are a far cry from the desperate climate seen during the 2008 downturn.

To many, a well-balanced investment portfolio looks the same as it has in the past, with investors commonly settling on 60 percent in equity investments and 40 percent in lower-yield, lower-risk funds. In fact, to some advisers, the face-value volatility of 2011 has masked several reasons to be happy about investing this year.

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 “Pick any index you want — the long-term line is upward sloping,” said John Whiting, partner at Moss Adams Wealth Advisors. “It seems to me that it doesn’t take much in the way of news to really create skittishness on the part of investors. When investors react to that news, they tend to hurt themselves in the process.”

Individual investors often feel the fluctuations harder than those using a wealth manager, advisers said. Many are overconfident, trying to buy “the next Microsoft” while attempting to stay ahead of the rising and falling of markets in general.

The problem with that approach, as opposed to a more broadly based portfolio splitting risk and stability, is that rising and falling markets can take those investors along for the ride, adding risk and volatility that drives some to say “enough is enough” prematurely.

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“It’s the long-range planning that seems to make the difference. Those people who have taken the time and effort to plan out where they’re going seem to be able to withstand the pain better,” said Irv Rothenberg, principal at Santa Rosa’s Wealth Management Consultants, LLC.

In the relatively short term, Mr. Rothenberg said that many investors have seen lower-than-expected returns on their portfolios through the recessionary period. Those who had hoped for a return between 7 percent to 9 percent over the past 10 years could come away with 4 percent to 5 percent after the economy sped downward with the collapsing housing market in 2008.

However, while those yields have been enough to affect the long-term planning for some clients, Mr. Rothenberg said that history has been full of recessionary periods. Wealth management firms have been using more data visualization tools to illustrate these trends to their clients recently, he said, and many are learning that staying in the markets during seemingly uncertain times makes them well-poised to catch on to days when stocks trend upward.

“Having 50 years’ worth of bars (data) — this year it's earning 20, this year it’s losing 10 … it is very seldom any kind of steady progression, and it’s been that way since 1927,” he said.

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Eric Aanes, president and founder of Titus Wealth Management in Marin, said that his clients have been understanding about the market fluctuations this year. Unlike the financial climate following the housing crash and the bank bailouts, 2011’s wobbles have been more of a mainstream phenomenon. In fact, his firm has ratcheted up risk in its portfolios slightly, seeing opportunities.

“We don’t think this is going to be like '08. The banks aren’t failing, companies' balance sheets are as strong as they’ve ever been, banks aren’t making TARP requests, and tech companies like Apple are prospering,” he said.

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Still, not everyone has been able to pull their emotions away from their investing, particularly at a time when international markets are playing an ever-increasing role in portfolios, said Henry Pilger, chairman and partner at Vista Wealth Management.

Ten years ago, U.S. corporations might have made up 60 percent of the value of corporations in the world, Mr. Pilger estimated. That level has dropped to 42 percent today, causing levels of foreign assets in portfolios to grow. It's an increasingly important part of a diverse portfolio, spurring greater investor interest in the undulations of economies in Europe and elsewhere.

“There have been a number of people who have called and said, ‘I can’t handle the stress,’” Mr. Pilger said, “The problem with getting out of the market is that we don’t think it’s possible to time the market. If you’re nervous and get out now, you’re going to miss the day that the market goes up 10 percent.”

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Tim Ayles, chief investment officer at Napa Wealth Management, said that he sees another reason to be optimistic when looking at current markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, for example, reflects the some of the same prices that were in place a decade ago, while current company valuations are “two to three times higher,” he said.

“Everybody is so scared, they want to buy bonds right now,” he said, “But buy something (in equity stocks). Valuations in relation to the cash flows assets are actually producing have never been better."

“If an investor is waiting for the clouds to clear and the sun to come out, they’ll be on the bench for a long time. There will always be world events that create uncertainty,” said Mr. Whiting of Moss Adams.